Something Adventurous

“That is perfection in Yoga, the best you can honestly do on any given day.” -Bikram Choudhury

I did something adventurous in the studio this week. Something daring. Something even the wingsuit base jumpers of the world would’ve been proud of.

I set up my yoga mat in the front row.

I’ve climbed Mt. Washington, flown a small airplane, and danced to Ke$ha in front of my entire high school, but this might have been the boldest thing I’ve ever done. The front row is reserved for the experienced and the flexible. Instructors will tell new students, “just look to the people in the front row if you’re having trouble, they’ll show you what to do.” It’s the inner sanctum. The créme de la créme. So naturally I got into the habit of setting up my mat as far away from the front row as possible. I imagined someday receiving a prestigious invitation in the mail from the deities of yoga themselves, their words handsomely engraved in a bar of gleaming gold: WELCOME TO THE FRONT ROW, HANNAH, YOU’VE MADE IT! But as it turns out, the admission process isn’t quite that elaborate.

I walked into the studio, looked around like a bank robber about to commit a poorly-planned heist, and laid my mat down in the front row next to my mom’s.

That was it. No alarms sounded; no yoga deities appeared to curse me. I half expected someone to spot me and shout, “HEY! She can’t even sit on her knees! Haul her away from there!” But miraculously, that didn’t happen either. I just did what I always do before class: sat with my legs crossed, discreetly admired myself in the mirror, and waited for practice to begin.

Being so close to my own sweaty reflection for 90 minutes was both exhilarating and horrifying. I noticed that the redness in my face made my eyes look greener than usual. I could count the beads of sweat on my own shoulders. I came to terms with the fact that no matter what exercise regimen I employ, a friendly layer of stomach flub will always fold in on itself when I sit down. But superficiality aside, I also found that the physical closeness to myself actually brought me closer to my practice. It’s difficult to avoid your flaws when they’re staring you straight in the face, and the front row made me focus longer and push harder to try and correct them. (I still struggled to touch my toes in that last stretching posture, but hey, they tell me it’s a process.)

My thoughts still wandered to a world where yoga includes nap time. I still made lists in my head of possible sweat-related deaths. When the instructor announced that it was time for wind-removing pose, I still thought to myself, “oh, she means fart pose.” But overall, I felt stronger and calmer in the front than I ever had cowering in the back corners of the studio. From now on, I’ll have a front row seat to the sweat show, no golden ticket necessary.

A few other tidbits I learned in my first week of the 30-day challenge:

  •  The word “yoga” actually means yoking, or “connecting.”
  • “Namaste,” the sentiment used to close every yoga practice, means “the light in me honors the light in you.”
  • A male yoga enthusiast is called a yogi, while a female yoga enthusiast is called a yogini. (Ladies, we’re only two letters away from Voldemort’s killer pet snake. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.)
  • The Sanskrit names for yoga poses are formed by adding a deity’s name to the word “asana,” which means a kind of prayer. (Of course I immediately began brainstorming ideas for the “Hannahsana” pose, which I’ve decided would look something like the way your body recoils after you accidentally walk into a door.)


The Bikram outfit my mom got me for my birthday scares me a little bit, but I told myself I’d be allowed to wear it in public after at least one week of the challenge. It’s been 7 days, so maybe I’ll unveil this baby tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.



A Snort in the Studio

Before I first experienced Bikram yoga, I thought I knew sweat pretty well. Sure, I don’t run marathons or throw boulders in my spare time, but when I’m not devouring M&Ms or living in my Netflix queue, I like to consider myself an athlete. I can ski moguls until my knees beg for mercy. I’m pretty feisty with a tennis racket. I once biked 84 miles in a day. So with athletic prowess as stunning as mine, you’d think I’d be something of a sweat connoisseur. That’s what my pre-Bikram self thought anyway. But less than five minutes into my first Bikram yoga experience, I realized that my pre-Bikram self could not have been more wrong.

I didn’t know sweat. I didn’t know sweat at all.

My shins, my elbows, my knees, the tops of my feet… no nook or cranny was safe from the sweat tsunami. My mom had warned me that the class would be hot, 105 degrees to be exact, and that it would be long, 90 minutes on the dot. But no warning could have prepared me for this kind of perspiration. It poured out in buckets, rained upon my towel as I contorted myself into repetitive, painful positions. And that was just the first breathing exercise.

Half-moon pose. Eagle pose. Tree pose. Camel pose. I gasped for air, completely ignoring the instructor’s cues to breathe in and out through our noses. My muscles powerfully protested the unfamiliar pain of each new posture, but I tried to keep my sweaty self composed. This proved incredibly difficult when, on top of holding each new excruciating position, I had to start dodging the rogue sweat bullets being launched from the hairy chest of the man to my right. Once or twice I desperately contemplated the consequences of a fart in the studio. (Which would be worse, the humiliation or the smell?)

I somehow managed to maintain an illusion of graceful composure until one of the very last poses of the class. We sat on our mats with our legs extended as the instructor told us to grab our big toes with our thumb and index fingers. While most of the sweaty people around me latched onto their sweaty toes with ease, I could only reach my sweaty fingers towards my sweaty toes with an air of sweaty desperation. I clenched my teeth, trembled from head to toe, felt another wave of sweat slide down my back. My hands just barely began to graze my feet. Pull, pull, pull, the instructor chanted, lock the knees, lock the knees, lock the knees. And before she finally told us to release, the instructor uttered this beauty:

“Your forehead should, eventually, touch your toes.”

I couldn’t help myself. I snorted. I actually snorted, completely abandoning any appearance of composure that I had managed to feign for 85 sweaty minutes. My neighbors didn’t seem to mind, but I figured they were just too sweaty to acknowledge me.

After such an endless and painful ordeal, you might have expected me to leave the studio with some sort of bodily injury, or a defeated limp at the very least. But as I walked out of that first class, sweaty and miserable as I may have been just minutes before, my entire being felt inexplicably awesome. My mind had cleared. My body had relaxed. And despite all life-preserving instincts advising me to the contrary, a part of me wanted to march right back into the studio and try it again.

So, ladies and gentleman, this month I am participating in a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge. It starts this week and continues until I complete 30 classes in 30 days, or melt wicked-witch style into a puddle of my own sweat, whichever comes first. If I survive the first week, you’ll hear from me again next Monday. I’m sure my forehead will be touching my toes by then.


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